EFM now biz’s third big sales spot

Berlin market becoming similar to Cannes, AFM

LONDON — It’s a fact that some enthusiastically welcome, and others reluctantly accept, but no one seriously disputes: Berlin has become the year’s third market, alongside Cannes and AFM.

Once a hangout for arthouse sellers and buyers devoted exclusively to doing business on movies screening in the festival, Berlin’s European Film Market has grown like topsy in the past couple of years and taken on a life of its own.

“It’s a bit like Cannes now,” says Summit senior exec VP David Garrett. “You’ve got a market and a festival, and the two sit side by side and occasionally intertwine.”

Summit, which previously sent Garrett to Berlin only if the fest chanced to select one of its movies, now brings a full team and a full slate of fresh projects.

“We had success with ‘Keeping Mum’ two years ago, and ‘Adrift’ and the new Mike Leigh movie last year, but this is the first year that we’ve really geared up strongly for Berlin,” Garrett says.

As well as John Woo’s previously announced $57 million Chinese-language war movie “Red Cliff,” Summit expects to unveil at least two or three new scripts. It will screen footage of Mike Newell’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and may give a market premiere to “Bridge to Terabithia” if the movie gets finished in time.

“Almost all the buyers come, although there are still one or two who don’t, like Hoyts from Australia and some of the smaller Southeast Asian companies,” Garrett says.

Veteran producer Andras Hamori testifies that Berlin has also become a serious place to put together co-productions, particularly using German film funds. “You get together with real partners there. I have four or five projects with two or three partners that came directly out of the market discussions at Berlin last year.”

First Look Intl.’s new prexy, Stuart Ford, has “sky-high” expectations for EFM. “The perception was that there was not a lot in AFM, but given the activity at Sundance, it’s evident that buyers are hungry for product, and that there’s a fair anount of product coming through.”

The company is coming off a strong Sundance, which saw its first inhouse productions, Tommy O’Haver’s “An American Crime,” starring Catherine Keener, and Gregg Araki’s “Smiley Face,” preem “with terrific critical and distributor reactions,” per Ford. “We are also introducing our new sales hires after (just) opening up a U.K. office. The timing with Berlin is not a coincidence.”

First Look also is said to be handling Larry Charles’ followup to “Borat,” a yet-to-be-titled doc about religion around the world.

Ford confirmed the pic but says, “We will only aggressively be selling the film if there’s footage from Larry.”

Kim Fox, senior VP of worldwide sales at QED Intl., says: “Berlin has really taken shape now as a market, whereas before it was more like a testing ground to see if it was going to take hold. In the past couple of years, I wouldn’t have announced bigger projects at Berlin because I didn’t see that pulse, that very contagious energy to get momentum behind your pictures that you get at Cannes and AFM. But I do now.”

The genre-heavy slate of Odd Lot Intl. perfectly represents how Berlin has changed. The new shingle is screening “Wanted: Undead or Alive” and “Buried Alive” as well as selected scenes from the Sarah Michelle Gellar starrer “Suburban Girl.”

“Berlin is very much the third market now,” says Odd Lot’s Brian O’Shea. “We organize our timetable around it, and the product you take to Berlin can be all types, no limitations.”

Although sellers regard Berlin as reasonably cost-effective, O’Shea notes prices are creeping up. “To my disappointment, they have started to block-book hotels. It has got 20% more expensive this year.”

Shebnem Askin of 2929 Entertainment will be leading a full sales team to Berlin for the first time this year. Last year she went on her own and worked on the hoof, preselling the James Gray/ Mark Wahlberg Mafia drama “We Own the Night.”

“I sold out in four days,” she says. “I was very happy that we went down to two markets, but as the finances of the buyers have improved, it seems like we need three again.”

Like most of the mainstream sellers relatively new to Berlin, 2929 will be based at the Ritz Carlton rather than in the official market quarters of the Martin Gropius Bau.

That dynamic — old school in the Gropius, new school in the nearby hotels — seems to satisfy everyone. It preserves the slightly more upscale and festival-centric atmosphere of the EFM while enabling the more commercial players to ply their actioners, horror movies and mainstream dramas efficiently.

Askin is pre-selling “What Just Happened,” Barry Levinson’s version of Art Linson’s satirical Hollywood memoir “Tales From the Front Line,” with Robert De Niro starring. She’s also screening “Fast Track” (aka “The Ex”) to foreign buyers for the first time. But for her, Berlin is still not quite on a par with Cannes or AFM.

Buying time

“If we had nothing to sell, we wouldn’t go,” she says. “It’s not like Cannes or AFM, where if you don’t show up, people think you’ve gone out of business!”

Mali Kinberg, head of international sales and distribution at Mandate Films, says: “Two years ago we took a skeletal crew and it turned out to be a massive market for us. We realized people do want to buy at that time of year. When it came down to the prospect of having only two markets, buyers were concerned that if they didn’t get the package they were bidding on, they would be stuck without enough product to fill their slates.”

Mandate has the Anne Hathaway thriller “Passengers” and Kenneth Branagh’s Hitchcock remake “Sleuth” in production, and several other projects at various stages from script to completion.

“We preferred Milan in October/November and the AFM in February, but with AFM now in the fall, Berlin is a convenient place to show our films,” says Gary Smith, chief exec of London-based Intandem Films. “It has been concocted as a market just because it’s in February.”

As in previous years, Intandem will erect a big screen in a conference room in the Marriott hotel to show footage of its product. This year, that lineup includes the Wesley Snipes action vehicle “Gallowgate” and Anand Tucker’s “When Did You Last See Your Father?” It’s also screening Sundance entry “Hounddog” and will start presales on “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.”

This cross-section of sellers simply reflects the wider picture at Berlin this year.

Regardless of whatever unspools in the festival, the old haphazard days of the market, whose last vestiges still lingered last year, are gone for good.

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